Lycka enligt Adam Smith

Jag skrev nyligen om Adam Smiths syn på ojämlikhet. Den har i icke oväsentlig grad med Smiths syn på grunderna för lycka att göra. Detta förklaras på ett utmärkt sätt i artikeln ”Adam Smith on What Is Wrong with Economic Inequality”. Smith konstaterar först att människor inte kan låta bli att anstränga sig och arbeta hårt för att förbättra sin materiella situation:

As Smith famously declares, “the desire of bettering our condition. . .comes with us from the womb, and never leaves us till we go into the grave. In the whole interval which separates these two moments, there is scarce perhaps a single instant in which any man is so perfectly and completely satisfied with his situation, as to be without any wish of alteration or improvement, of any kind” (WN II.iii.28, 341). Even if there are moments when we realize that wealth and status will not bring us true happiness, such as when we are old or sick or depressed (see TMS IV.1.8, 181–2)—or perhaps when we are enlightened by a book like The Theory of Moral Sentiments—we almost invariably turn back toward the feverish pursuit of ever more riches since it is so difficult to continually view things “in this abstract and philosophical light” (TMS IV.1.9, 183).

All denna ansträngning grundas enligt Smith i den felaktiga föreställningen att vi kommer att bli lyckligare ju mer resurser vi får. Men i själva verket är denna ständiga jakt på förbättring något som stör sinnesron i livet:

Smith contends that “happiness consists in tranquillity and enjoyment” and places the greater weight on the first of these ingredients: “Without tranquillity there can be no enjoyment; and where there is perfect tranquillity there is scarce any thing which is not capable of amusing” (TMS III.3.30, 149).

Detta synsätt knyter an till John Stuart Mills uttalande:

I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.

Om man kan lära sig att vara nöjd med mindre tycks man alltså kunna få ett bättre liv. Dock kan det finnas positiva externa effekter av att alla fortsätter att anstränga sig. Utan denna strävan efter ”mer och bättre” skulle antagligen inte någon större ekonomisk utveckling, och därpå baserad välfärd, äga rum. Smith inser också detta:

It is true that later in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, just before his one reference to the “invisible hand” in that work, Smith praises the “deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind”—essentially, the illusion that money can buy happiness—for the role it plays in advancing the process of civilization (TMS IV.1.10, 183–4). Yet it remains true that he calls it a deception. Moreover, it is a deception that Smith believes causes a great deal of unhappiness. In his view, “the great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another” (TMS III.3.31, 149). This “misery” stems from the fact that people often submit themselves to nearly endless labor and anxiety in the pursuit of wealth, thereby unwittingly foregoing the calmer, simpler pleasures that are available to them at any time (see TMS III.3.31, 150). Smith maintains that labor is “toil and trouble” (WN I.v.2, 47), that it requires a person to “lay down [a] portion of his ease, his liberty, and his happiness” (WN I.v.7, 50), and he speaks of “all that toil, all that anxiety, all those mortifications which must be undergone” in the pursuit of great wealth (TMS I.iii.2.1, 51). Happiness consists largely of tranquility, for Smith, and there is little tranquility to be found in a life of toiling and striving.

Kan idealet därför vara att man själv tar det relativt lugnt medan andra fortsätter att anstränga sig för att ”föra fram civilisationsprocessen”? Eller är det för egoistiskt?